An oil spill is when sea water is contaminated with oil. This can be an accident or human error. Oil spills can be massively damaging to marine wildlife and also humans if the oil gets into the food chain. This hand-on oil spill science experiment is not only great for helping children visualise the effects of an oil spill, but also demonstrates how water and oil don’t mix and why oil floats on water.
Oil Spill Experiment for Kids
Clear plastic container
Spoon or pipette
Oil Spill Investigation Instructions
Step 1 – Add Oil to Water
Half fill the clear container with water. Drop a small amount of oil onto the water.
The oil will float on top of the water. Even if you shake the container ( cover it first ) the oil and water will separate again.
Use a cotton bud to move the oil around surface of the water.
Step 2 – Oil Clean Up
Pour enough water into the tray so the surface is completely covered and the tray is about half full.
Carefully drop two tablespoons of oil onto the surface of the water.
Experiment with the absorbent materials to discover which cleans up the oil spill the best.
Oil Spill Challenges
Try to build something to contain oil to one area of the tray.
Try the experiment again, but this time use the same amount of each absorbing material and collect the oil for the same amount of time. Which material absorbs the oil the most effectively?
Another idea is to dip a feather in the oily water and watch as it starts to feel heavier. Imagine being a bird with oil covered feathers. This activity can be further extended by exploring different methods of cleaning oil covered feathers. Water and water with washing up liquid are great things to try first.
Read about the biggest oil spills in history.
If you found our oil spill science experiment useful you might also enjoy our edible greenhouse gas models.